Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Boils facts
- What is a boil? What are the symptoms and signs of a boil?
- What causes boils to form?
- Who is most likely to get a boil?
- How are boils diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for a boil?
- When should I seek medical attention for a boil?
- What is the prognosis (outcome) for a boil?
- What can be done to prevent boils (abscesses)?
- Pictures of Boils - Slideshow
- Medical Illustrations of Boils Image Collection
- Adult Skin Problems - Slideshow
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
How are boils diagnosed?
The diagnosis of a boil can be made by observation of the typical signs and symptoms. Blood tests or specialized laboratory tests are not required to make the diagnosis of a boil. If the infection within a boil has spread to deeper tissues or is extensive, cultures of the pus may be taken from the wound area to identify the precise type of bacteria responsible for the infection. This can guide the choice of antibiotics for treatment.
What is the treatment for a boil?
Home treatment is an option for most simple boils. Ideally, treatment should begin as soon as a boil is noticed since early treatment may prevent later complications.
The primary home remedy for most boils is heat application, usually with hot soaks or hot packs. Heat application increases the circulation to the area and allows the body to better fight off the infection by bringing antibodies and white blood cells to the site of infection.
As long as the boil is small and firm, opening the area and draining the boil is not helpful, even if the area is painful. However, once the boil becomes soft or "forms a head" (that is, a small pustule or area of pus is noted in the boil), it can be ready to drain. Once drained, pain relief can be dramatic. Most small boils, such as those that form around hairs, drain on their own with hot soaks. On occasion, and especially with larger boils, medical treatment is required. In this situation, the boil will need to be drained or "lanced" by a health-care professional. Frequently, these larger boils contain several pockets of pus that must be opened and drained.
Antibiotics are often used to eliminate any accompanying bacterial infection, especially if there is an infection of the surrounding skin. However, antibiotics are not needed in every situation. In fact, antibiotics have difficulty penetrating the outer wall of an abscess well and often will not cure an abscess without additional surgical drainage.
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